The Ugandan parliament on May 2 passed a revised version of anti-LGBTQ legislation that had been introduced earlier this year. The original version of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 criminalized merely identifying as LGBTQ, prescribed the death penalty for certain crimes involving same-sex activity, and called for life in prison for anyone engaging in same-sex relations.
During the lead-up to the original bill’s introduction, media reports highlighted the involvement of religious leaders in Uganda, including from the Adventist Church. A significant proponent of anti-LGBTQ legislation in the country has been the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU). According to a report from the Daily Monitor, a Ugandan newspaper, IRCU leaders held a press conference in February and “vowed to do everything possible to have the anti-same-sex Bill returned to Parliament.” Moses Maka Ndimukika, president of the Uganda Union Mission of the Adventist Church and a member of IRCU leadership, was pictured at the press conference and signed a joint statement on the “growing spread of homosexuality and LGBTQ agenda in Uganda.”
The legislation as originally proposed received widespread international condemnation, with the UN human rights chief, Volker Türk, calling it “deeply troubling” and “probably among the worst of its kind in the world.”
But while world leaders and human rights advocates condemned the bill, Adventist Church leadership remained silent—despite the media allegations surrounding Adventist involvement. The church was willing to comment on other issues related to sexuality during the same time span, however. On April 4, in response to German pastor Saša Gunjević retaining his ministerial credentials after coming out as bisexual, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists released a consensus statement about the church’s official teachings on sexuality. Although they later changed the picture, the statement was originally accompanied by an image of the all-male GC top leadership along with all the male division presidents.
This month, Spectrum asked the General Conference for comment on whether the GC had been in contact with church leaders in Uganda about the legislation, if the church supports Moses Maka Ndimukika’s alleged involvement, and if the legislation is compatible with official denominational statements. Over a 13-day period, there was communication with the GC about the questions, but after a second self-imposed deadline was missed, it was clear that no public statement would be made.
After the original 2023 bill was sent back for revision by Uganda’s president, parliament passed the latest version that removes prison time for simply identifying as LGBTQ but retains most other key provisions, including up to 20-year prison sentences for “promoting” homosexuality. Landlords could be sent to prison for renting property to LGBTQ individuals.
The 2023 anti-LGBTQ bill is not the first time such legislation has been proposed in Uganda—or the first time local Adventist leaders have been implicated in voicing support. In 2010, amid another effort to pass anti-LGBTQ legislation, a Ugandan newspaper reported that the then-president of the Adventist Church in Uganda supported the bill and advocated for it to be passed quickly. Then in 2012, a newspaper reported that Blasious Ruguri, president of the East-Central Africa Division, fully supported an anti-LGBTQ bill under consideration. The Adventist Church later released a statement that Ruguri’s words had been taken out of context. Ruguri remains president of the East-Central Africa Division, which includes Uganda.
On May 29, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the revised bill into law. "The Ugandan president has today legalized state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia," Clare Byarugaba, a Ugandan rights activist, told Reuters.
International leaders again condemned the law, with United States President Joe Biden saying that he would consider "the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption."
Alexander Carpenter contributed reporting.
Alex Aamodt is the managing digital editor for Spectrum.
Photo by Alisdare Hickson, via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
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